Dance of Death: The Count, c. 1526. Hans Holbein (German, 1497/98-1543). Woodcut; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of The Print Club of Cleveland 1929.164
Dance of Death is the most celebrated series of woodcuts designed by Holbein. The 41 blocks were cut by Hans Lützelburger in the years immediately before his death in 1526, though the set was not published until 1538. Dance of Death originated as a drama in the middle of the 1300s. Following widespread epidemics such as the black plague, these plays took place in a cemetery or churchyard. Dressed in pale costumes painted to resemble skeletons, actors personified Death and summoned a group of people from all social classes in a dancelike procession. In a period when the life span was short, the purpose of the Dance of Death was to remind the people to prepare for the Last Judgement.